The long-awaited wildlife overpass east of Canmore is much closer to reality after the province announced it has set aside money for the project.

Last month’s budget included $20 million for wildlife protection on provincial roads, and Banff Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin says the overpass project is the number one priority for construction.

“Not only has our government identified this as a priority based on the data, but we've really heard from so many thousands of constituents in my riding, but even across the province we've had people reach out to us," she said.

The overpass will be located just west of the Highway 1X interchange, the scene of frequent wildlife collisions, and will include about three kilometres of fencing on either side of the crossing.

On average about 50 large animals are hit on the Trans-Canada Highway between the Kananaskis River and the Banff park gates every year.

In April, seven elk were hit and killed by a semi-trailer in Canmore.

In sections where fencing has been installed, collisions with wildlife have dropped by up to 96 per cent.

The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) has long lobbied for the overpass, not only for human safety, but also to allow wildlife to move and mate  freely.

“Our work is to try to ensure that they will have the ability to connect populations that are currently isolated from each other. Roads are one of these barriers that grizzlies in particular have trouble crossing," said Hilary Young, senior Alberta program manager with Y2Y.

The province estimates construction, including fencing, will cost $14 million, which is double the previous estimate.

Wildlife fencing and overpasses have been a part of road safety in Banff National Park since the mid-1990s but this would be the first on provincial land.

Preliminary design work has been underway since last year and is expected to be complete by early 2020. If everything moves smoothly construction could begin as early as 2021.

Under the same provincial wildlife protection plan, a second project is also going ahead in the Crowsnest Pass at Rock Creek, where an underpass is planned.